nigeria: back on, baby

Nigeria update: It’s back on. The visa apparently came through today (although I won’t believe it until it’s in my hands, freshly FedExed, in the morning).
So: I leave for Lagos Wednesday afternoon. Get in Thursday late morning Dallas time. Will no doubt be dead tired since I have never in my life been able to sleep on a plane — no matter how many sleeping pills I take and how much NyQuil I swig. I *have* had some good hallucinations on long flights, though, thanks to that NyQuil.
Anyway, the plan is to leave Lagos on Friday, April 22, and get back to Dallas the next day. Wish me luck. Updates here will likely be sparse, since I doubt there’s much wifi in the sahel. But you never know. Best ways to reach me will be via email (jbenton at toast dot net) or via Skype (crabwalkjb or 214-556-2616 — voice mails are very welcome). May get a Nigerian cell phone while I’m there — not sure.

new apple store in dallas

I’ve always admired, in a strange way, ifo Apple Store. It’s a site almost manically devoted to a single niche — namely, tracking the expansion of Apple’s retail stores across the globe’s malls and downtowns. (The about page is almost charming in its devotion: “This personal, non-commercial, not-for-profit Web site was originally posted to support the ‘Overnighters,’ a group of people who camp in front of (ifo) Apple Stores the night before their grand opening.” I mean, I love me some Apple, but the camping-out people always seemed a bit much.)
Anyway, the site is concrete proof of one of my core Internet beliefs: If you pick a niche small enough, you can in short order become the absolute king of that niche. Start a site for toothpick-holder collectors, and you can own toothpick-holder collecting.
(Aside: that last link is to what is, by far, the snarkiest story I’ve ever snuck into an American newspaper. It’s also the one story that got me into the most trouble with my bosses, who mistook my quirky affection for offense. Also, the mortuary quote may be the best I’ve ever typed.)
But back to ifo Apple Store. Notice, in the April 10 entry, a bit of news relevant to Dallasites: the impending arrival of a third Apple store in DFW. This one is coming to NorthPark, which certainly would have been a better spot for the first store than the ever-vacant Willow Bend. Considering the big crowds I always run into at the Knox-Henderson store, I can imagine there’s enough market to support it.
(NorthPark is, of course, the retail temple built by Raymond Nasher, now known as the man behind the excellent Nasher Sculpture Center, where I was this a.m. I can also verify that Nasher’s also a very courtly, kind interview subject.)
(Addendum: West siders, don’t feel left out. Apparently Southlake is getting an Apple store, too.)

nigeria! psych!

I write to you from sunny Nigeria!
Er, wait a sec. Actually, I write to you from overcast Dallas.
Slight snafu has delayed my departure for the eastern hemisphere by a few days, at least. More updates as warranted.

a bunch of stuff

The track listing for the new Sufjan Stevens Illinois-themed album is awesome. So awesome that it makes one wonder if it’s not a belated April Fool’s gag — they all have the same tone as his Michigan album, but each about three steps further. Among the songs: “A Short Reprise for Mary Todd, Who Went Insane, But for Very Good Reasons”; “Out of Egypt, into the Great Laugh of Mankind, and I Shake the Dirt From My Sandals As I Run”; and “To the Workers of the Rockford River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament, and It Involves Shoe String, a Lavender Garland, and Twelve Strong Women.” And, perhaps best of all: “Come on! Feel the Illinoise! Part I: The World’s Columbian Exposition; Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me in a Dream.”
Paul Shirley — 12th man on the Phoenix Suns — has an entertaining blog about his life as an NBA benchwarmer. “At any rate, everyone was relatively happy in the locker room after the game. We had put together a solid road trip and were excited to go home. (I really felt like I had a stellar set of games. Minutes: 0, total points: 0, field goal percentage: Undefined. Bravo.)” And: “I would, if there were such an option, fill in ‘Professional Basketball Player’ on my insurance forms (as it is, I usually have to go with either ‘Self-Employed’ or ‘Other,’ which must raise eyebrows somewhere in the back room: ‘This guy must be either a drug-dealer or in the CIA.’)”
Make your plans now for the fifth-annual Texas Bigfoot Conference this October. Hang out with Rick Noll, who is more than just another pretty mullet: he’s “been researching the sasquatch phenomenon since 1969” and has “has worked with all of the major sasquatch researchers.” Best line in his bio: “[He has] connected with many highly noted anthropologists such as Dr. George Schaller and Dr. Jane Goodall.” Connected with. Which no doubt means “has sent an email to.”
33.33, a blog about the 33 1/3 series of short books, each of which is dedicated to one life-changing album in the writer’s life. (Titles include Franklin Bruno on Elvis Costello’s “Armed Forces,” Warren Zanes on Dusty Springfield’s “Dusty in Memphis,” Colin Meloy on the Replacements’ “Let It Be,” and Joe Pernice on The Smiths’ “Meat is Murder.”) Currently on the site: DJ Shadow talking about his first turntable and his pushback against overintellectualizing music:
“Turntablism is the description of scratching that’s supposed to make people who don’t listen to hip-hop, sit up and go ‘Hmm, maybe it is real music.’ Scratching, to me, is just what it is. Turntablism has this virtuosic aspect to it, and to me, that’s when things start to turn jazzy. And I’m not a huge fan of when things turn jazzy. Because when I think of jazzy, I think of Wynton Marsalis. He came to speak at my African-American Studies class at U.C. Davis when I was a freshman. I remember him just standing up there, and just dissing rap for 20 minutes straight, and just loving the response he was getting from the lily-white audience. As if they were so thrilled that finally a black guy was speaking out against rap. I remember just sitting there thinking, Oh this sucks. I was venting about it afterward in class. Ever since then I’ve had this thing against people who over-intellectualize everything and make it an in-crowd-only thing. So, any time anything starts getting jazzy

mutual funds and crazy suze orman

Not that anyone should come to seeking financial advice, but I’d like to point out I’ve been very happy with the money I’ve put into the Hennessy Cornerstone Growth Fund. Here’s an article on its unusual investing style, which mixes a defined stock-picking philosophy with the emotionless, mechanized appeal of indexing. I think it catches the best of both worlds, and the returns have been very good.
I bought in not long after reading this Glassman column in WaPo back in ’03. (Glassman is problematic in a number of ways, but he was, I thought, an excellent nuts-and-bolts investing columnist.) HFCGX has done well for me: up about 28 percent since then. Of course, YMMV.
In other personal-finance news: One of the most popular posts ever on this site was this examination of Suze Orman book covers, and the various ways in which the self-appointed pers-fi guru looks crazy on them.
Wandering through Borders the other day, I saw Suze’s new book, The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke. (Which may well describe me after I get through buying new wheels to replace my totaled Mitsu.)
Anyway, Suze — ever the innovator — has found a new way to look crazy. I call it the “You can put highlights in the hair, but you can’t take the crazy out of the eyes” crazy. She should consider patenting it.

sex survey for kids

Two things about this sex survey a local Christian school wanted to distribute to its students:
– Has the term “heavy petting” ever been used in any context other than sex-ed classes? Has any teenager asked another: “What’d you do this weekend?” “Oh, man, me and Suzie, we pet. We heavily pet.”
– One of these things is not like the others: “Have you ever read or viewed sexually explicit material? Ex: sex chat room, novels, magazines (Penthouse, Playboy, Cosmo)”

mitsubishi mirage, r.i.p.

Those of you who know me in meatspace know it’s been a busy stretch for me lately.
Lots of travel (Mexico, Boston, Austin, and New York in the last six weeks). Tons of stories on my beat (lots of Wilmer-Hutchins stuff and testing stuff — like today’s front-pager). Various dinners and drinks and other social engagements. Watching my North Carolina Tar Heels reassume their rightful post on top of the basketball world. And, oh by the way, I’m going to frickin’ Nigeria in two days and don’t even have a hotel reservation.
So. The last thing I needed last night was for some drugged-up punk to run a downtown Dallas red light at 60 mph and total my car. But, quoth Mick Jagger, you can’t always get what you want.
I was driving home from work, minding my own business, when a fellow named Keithon ran a light (Dallasites: he was eastbound on Commerce, I was northbound on Central). I slammed on the brakes, but it wasn’t enough and I plowed into his right rear door. Because he was moving so fast, he spun around and slammed into a pole with a traffic signal, knocking it over and collapsing it on his roof.
I’m okay, first of all. Sore as hell, but okay. My noble 1996 Mitsubishi Mirage, however, is likely totaled. It’s a moment of some sadness, I’ll admit. I’ve owned only two cars in my life, both 1996 Mirages. Bought my first one in 1997 on my last day as a Louisiana resident before driving north to Ohio for my first post-college job. Took the odometer from 19,000 to 90,000.
But then the air conditioner broke down. I went a full calendar year without a/c, in Texas no less. People thought I was insane. Among those people was my grandmother, who by this point wasn’t driving any more and had earlier purchased her own 1996 Mitsubishi Mirage. Hers had functioning a/c, so we swapped.
(Of course, the a/c in that car died within two weeks of my owning it, proving me climate-control challenged.)
Anyway, my Mirage was my little way of rebelling against Dallas life. It was functional, and it wasn’t horribly ugly or anything. But in a city where so many people spend more than they should on cars, in hopes of looking fashionably shallow, I was proud of my nine-year-old beater.
It also proved to be a good litmus test for people. Went on a second date once where the girl said, with no small measure of disgust, “When are you going to get a new car?” There was no third date. (Actually, I think there probably was a third date. But definitely no fourth date.)
Now, I’ve got a dozen new items on my to-do list. Deal with my insurance company. Deal with his insurance company (oh, wait — he didn’t have insurance; never mind). Get copy of police report. Look into buying new car. Wonder why stray puppies and smashed automobiles are both kept in places called “city pounds.” All fun.
On the plus side, I rode my bike to work today. Felt all urban and stuff.

confederacy of dunces movie

Longtime readers know A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my very favorite books. (By the way, an update on that last entry: The hard drive ended up named Dorian.)
Anyway, here’s another update on the on-again, off-again status of an ACoD movie. Looks like (from reading between the lines in the last paragraph) that Will Ferrell is no longer attached to play Ignatius, but the mighty Mos Def is still Jones.

crabwalk goes to nigeria

To flesh out Friday’s entry: Turns out that I’m going to Nigeria on Friday. I’ll be gone for 10 days, writing a variety of Pope-related stories.
Since this all has come together pretty quickly, I’ve got a lot of learning to do on Nigeria (and the African Catholic church). On Friday night, I went to Borders to pick up a copy of Lonely Planet guide to Nigeria. Turns out there is no Lonely Planet Nigeria. Strange, I thought. Nigeria is the largest country in Africa and certainly one of the most important.
Actually, I looked around and there were no guidebooks for Nigeria. I picked up the Lonely Planet West Africa guide, which had a short chapter on Nigeria. I can sum up its advice to travelers wishing to visit Nigeria in one word: “Don’t.”
It paints a horrific picture of armed robberies, murders, assaults, random urban violence, and perhaps the worst city in the world, Lagos. (Although, by this ratings system, it’s only the fourth-worst out of 130 cities studied.) Quoth the Rough Guide to West Africa: “While it would definitely be misleading to downplay its problems, Lagos is no more of a hell hole than any other gigantic, seething, impoverished city with a military administration and an oppressive climate.”
Nigeria is annually rated the most corrupt country on earth. (Although, again to be fair, this year it’s only third, edged out by Bangladesh and Haiti.) The main airport in Lagos was, until quite recently, considered so unsafe that the FAA banned flights to it. (“Travelers arriving in Lagos were harassed both inside and outside of the airport terminal by criminals. Airport staff contributed to its reputation. Immigration officers required bribes before stamping passports, while customs agents demanded payment for nonexistent fees. In addition, several jet airplanes were attacked by criminals who stopped planes taxiing to and from the terminal and robbed their cargo holds.” Luckily, security apparently improved when “police instituted a shoot on sight policy for anyone found in the secure areas around runways and taxiways.”)
Gotta love this woman’s experience at Murtala Muhammed: “Nothing compares in filth, insecurity, and lack of facilities to the Muhammed Murtala airport in Lagos, Nigeria which is one of the worst places I’ve ever spent a night and/or day…During our stay, we barely avoided a fistfight, witnessed two robberies at knifepoint (perpetrated by rather small boys against foreign tourists), were threatened several times (Thank God my husband is a big guy who grew up in Africa or we, also, would have been robbed), got violently ill (details omitted) on the ‘bottled’ water, and took turns dozing fitfully for fear we would be attacked by the starving rats we saw fighting for scraps of trash. The place has NO security whatsoever (the guys with machine guns outside apparently couldn’t care less what’s going on inside and it’s the only airport I know of where they don’t scan carry-ons or make you walk through a metal detector), no chairs of any kind in the lobby (we were not allowed to go to the gate until the plane was ‘fixed’), a filthy, sticky floor and no bathrooms (well, actually, there was a room but it was locked because there was no water and according to the staff there, they had to lock it because the toilets were overflowing with human waste and people were just doing it on the floor). There was a ‘restaurant’ but it was out of food and the bar sold us contaminated water. (There were also some wandering vendors selling probably-contaminated food.)”
Or listen to what the country’s leading writers have to say. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka: “Only a masochist with an exuberant taste for self-violence will pick Nigeria for a holiday.” Or Chinua Achebe: “Nigeria is not a great country. It is one of the most disorderly nations in the world. It is one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest, and vulgar. In short it is among the most unpleasant places on earth.”
In other words: Fun!
I expect this will be quite different from my previous Africa experience, in friendly open Zambia.
Re: communications, I should be in at least intermittant email contact, hopefully. And I’ve finally gotten on board the Skype bandwagon, meaning you can call me (at Skype ID crabwalkjb or at the regular ol’ phone number 214-556-2616) and we can chat from deepest Africa. Wish me luck!